On Saturday September 17th, the world’s most popular beer festival, Oktoberfest, opened its doors to visitors in Munich, Germany, after being canceled for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The return of the festival takes place in a context in which beer is more expensive: the invasion of Ukraine has pushed up the prices of raw materials and energy, and forced many breweries to pass on their costs to the price of the beverage.
As is traditional, Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter kicked off the festivities by smashing the first keg of beer with a hammer and offering the first tankard to Bavarian regional head Markus Söder. The festival will run until October 3 and no health requirements, such as wearing a mask, are planned.
Oktoberfest took place for the first time on October 12, 1810. That date marks the marriage of Prince Regent Ludwig of Bavaria (later King Louis I) and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The celebration of the marriage took place on October 17 and lasted for five entire days. It was concluded with a horse race held in a large area that later was named Theresienwiese after the bride. The Theresienwiese (literally “Therese’s meadow”) is where the Oktoberfest takes place in present times.
The idea of celebrating the wedding in a different way is attributed to Andreas Michael Dall’Armi, Member of the Bavarian National Guard, who organized the horse race. In 1824, Andreas Michael Dall’Armi was named the inventor of the Oktoberfest and the city of Munich awarded him the first gold citizens medal. He is buried in the Alter Südfriedhof cemetery.
In 1811, the folks wanted to replicate the celebrations of the previous year. Since there was no royal wedding taking place, the new organizer became the “Landwirtschaftlicher Verein in Bayern” (the Bavarian agricultural association). That year, the celebration was enlarged with the introduction of an agricultural fair. Then, in 1818, kiosks serving food and beverages were introduced.
In 1850, the city of Munich erected the statue of Bavaria, guardian of Oktoberfest and symbol of the Bavaria state. The colossal bronze statue has an impressive height of 18 meters and is located on the edge of the Theresienwiese. In 1881, the first roasted chicken outlet made its appearance to the festival and chicken is still today a key character of the Oktoberfest.
Later on, Oktoberfest continued to develop into the festival we know now. The small kiosks developed into large temporary beer wooden halls, each one erected by Munich brewers. Beer was not the only attraction of the festival. It also included parades featuring people in folk costumes, games, amusement rides, carrousels, music, and dancing.
Over the years, the festival has become more and more famous among beer lovers all around the world. What back in the 19th century started as a celebration of a wedding, today has become the world’s largest folk festival, with a total beer consumption of more than 7.5 million liters.
Some 487 breweries, restaurants, fish and meat grills, wine vendors and others are on site. Opening hours are even longer than in the past: the first beer tents will open at 9 am and close at 10:30 pm. Last orders are taken at 9:30 pm. A one-liter pitcher of beer costs between 12.60 and 13.80 euros this year, an increase of about 15% compared to 2019, according to the official Oktoberfest website.
Typical Bavarian dishes will also be on sale, including specialties such as the “slaughter plate” with blood sausage and pork liver and bacon; pork roast with crispy skin, bread dumplings and sauerkraut; slices of roast beef or braised venison ragout with homemade spaetzle pasta.
Oktoberfest normally attracts more than five million people, a third of whom come from abroad, from Asia in particular. It generates a total of around 1.2 billion euros. The cancellation in 2020 was the first since World War II. In 1854 and 1873 it was not held due to cholera epidemics. Germans are among the biggest beer consumers in Europe, with 84 liters per capita in 2021.